Radioactivity is to many a mysterious and sometimes frightening topic. As with most things that invoke fear or apprehension, it’s the unknown or misunderstood that is at the heart of the issue. The very idea of an unseen, tasteless, odorless, pernicious thing that can slowly cook you from the inside out is rightfully a bit intimidating. So with that in mind let’s talk about how the person lying next to you at night is unknowingly or maybe after this write-up a bit more knowingly, slowly “nuking” you.
Many atoms, at one point or another, experience a phenomenon that is known as radioactive decay. This process is, to oversimplify a bit, when an atom spontaneously explodes due to some curious processes within its nucleus. During the explosion ionizing particles are emitted. These particles come in various forms and travel often with incredible velocity and under the correct circumstances or in sufficient volume can be, well, deadly. If given the opportunity, these particles can knock around and tear up the very essence of your vitality, your DNA. When this happens they tend to kill the cells in-which the DNA was “nuked”. If enough cells are compromised and wiped out by these pesky mysterious particles, the result is the untimely expiration of the host of the exterminated cells. Pretty frightening stuff it seems.
Let’s now take that a step further and see why health codes should make it illegal for people to sleep in close proximity to one another.
Potassium is an interesting element. This element labeled “K” on the periodic table is necessary for our survival. It facilitates some key functions in the transport and efficacy of nerve impulse. The K designation comes from the Latin word “kalium” for pot ash, a source from which in ancient time’s potassium was obtained. Even the English name potassium still caries the origins coming from the word “potash”. On average you or I have about 40 grams of this substance in our bodies to survive. Here is where things turn macabre.
Typical potassium in our body is a stable isotope. The nucleus of this atom contains 19 protons, and 20 neutrons totaling 39, so it’s labeled K-39. In addition lurking within our bodies is a rouge misfit type of potassium. In fact about .01% of the potassium we harbor within us silently is known as potassium-40, and potassium-40 is radioactive. This radioactive isotope is cancer causing, and about 1,000 atoms of this little monster inside of us are exploding every second! Most of these explosions eject a stealthy little beta ray at mind bending speed, but some produce the ray of nightmares, gamma rays. The beta rays will only serve to bring yourself harm and will never exit your bodies, but the gamma rays . . . they are far more sinister.
The gamma rays can and do in fact jet from your body and pummel anyone in close proximity. You may not glow green like in the comic books, but you are for a fact radioactive. Enough so that if one extrapolates the math and relies on the linear hypothesis which predicts long term biological damage caused by radiation exposure, it will be discovered that world wide potentially 200 people could die annually from cancer just from sleeping in the same bed with someone nightly!
Ok so, now that my small bit of fun hyperbole has been put out there lets just clarify. Yes, these facts are real and the statistics support my math assuming the linear hypothesis, or linear no-threshold model (LNT) has any merit in determining the potential for fatal doses of radiation over large populations (a subject of a fair amount of debate). Really though, is there need to run to IKEA and dump the California king bed for two twins? Should we invest in a led barrier to divide the sheets, or sleep with the 40 pound vest we beg our dentist to sell us after our X-rays. Nah – do some canoodling and soak up the gamma rays – can’t live forever.